My Favorite CSO: Dakota Williams

Dakota Williams is associate director for education and community engagement giving for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s commercial recording legacy began on May 1, 1916, when second music director Frederick Stock led the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The Orchestra has since amassed an extraordinary, award-winning discography on a number of labels—including Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, London/Decca, RCA, Sony, Teldec, Victor, and others—continuing with releases on the in-house label CSO Resound under tenth music director Riccardo Muti. For My Favorite CSO, we asked members of the Chicago Symphony family for their favorite recordings (and a few honorable mentions) from the Orchestra’s discography.

Arts administrator by day and freelance musician by night, Dakota Williams spends their life surrounded by music. They serve as the associate director for education and community engagement giving for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, overseeing fundraising for the Negaunee Music Institute. Having earned a bachelor of music degree in horn performance from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, Williams is a versatile musician with experience in large orchestra, pit orchestra, chamber music, and solo performance. They also have expertise in arts administration, including direct fundraising, strategic planning, event management, and educational programming.

MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2008 for CSO Resound
Bernard Haitink conductor
"This was the recording that made me fall in love with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When it was released, I had recently heard the Orchestra live for the first time, performing Holst’s The Planets, conducted by Charles Dutoit. Hearing this album brought back fond memories of the sound from Symphony Center and showed me so many other colors the CSO could produce. From the eerily quiet opening to the bombastic finale, this recording captures the vast sound color palette of the CSO. This remains one of my favorite orchestral recordings to this day."

Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1991 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
“Subtlety is not one of the first words used to describe the CSO, often lauded for the power and prowess of its brass section. However, this recording of Debussy’s La mer showcases the delicacy and nuance that the Orchestra is capable of. Throughout, the strings create a vibrant canvas on which the delicate solo wind lines dance. The brass have their moment to shine with all their strength and brilliance though, most notably as the first movement closes and the waves of sound come crashing through. These elements come together to produce a compelling recording that I am happy to return to frequently."

CORIGLIANO Symphony No. 1
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1990 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Stephen Hough piano
John Sharp cello
1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition
"Corigliano’s Symphony no. 1 may well be the orchestral piece that has had the biggest effect on me, as a musician and as a queer person. It demonstrates the Orchestra’s ability to convey incredibly personal and intimate emotions, like grief and loss in an uncaring world. A culmination of Corigliano’s appointment as the CSO’s first composer-in-residence, the close relationships among the composer, the conductor, and the Orchestra are clear in the recording. It is full of nuanced musical decisions, coordinated beautifully by Daniel Barenboim and executed with mastery by the Orchestra. Whenever I need to share the power of orchestral music with someone, I send them this recording."

BATES Alternative Energy
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2012 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
"When putting this list together, I knew I needed to include something by Mason Bates. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was seated behind him for a CSO concert in 2012, when he invited my friends and me to a MusicNOW performance. This performance opened my eyes to what contemporary music could do and be. Alternative Energy was released within the year, and I listened to it on repeat for months and continue to go back to it regularly now."

STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1954 by RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
"This recording is, by far, the oldest on my list. I tend not to gravitate toward these earlier orchestral recordings, due to the lower fidelity. However, this recording by Fritz Reiner and the CSO brings so much energy and exuberance to Don Juan that I had to include it. As a horn player, I find the section playing on this recording to be truly inspiring. The 1950s CSO horn section, led by Philip Farkas, must have been something to behold live, because they impress even through this mid-century audio recording, which pales in comparison to what we could capture today."

A few honorable mentions:

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E–flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) with Fritz Reiner for RCA (1954)
  • STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28 with Sir Georg Solti for London (1975)
  • WILLIAMS Lincoln with John Williams for Sony (2012)